Ice cold and raw, fried or baked, fresh oysters make perfect beach food, hands down one of the most popular menu items. Practice makes perfect when trying to get inside that tough outer shell, and prying them open can be a struggle. Let’s dig right in and decode the oyster shuck.
Always wear protective, cut resistant oyster gloves.
Always use an oyster knife.
The very important oyster gloves protect your hands from injuries when you’re using (you guessed it) the oyster knife. The oyster knife (also called an oyster opener) is designed to be extremely strong and is so necessary that no other tool will do when you’re tearing into rough shells.
Check out this demo by the chef at Shunk Gulley Oyster Bar on 30A:
Find the hinge. Wiggle the blade.
Take your oyster knife and put it into the hinge (or foot) of the oyster. The hinge is the sweet spot, the back pointed edge, and it takes some hit and miss to find it.
Go slowly and put the tip of the knife into the hinge and wiggle it in to set the blade.
Pop goes the oyster.
Do a 1/4 turn (like a key in a lock) and turn the knife to pop the shell. Once the hinge is broken, push up the top shell with a prying motion to expose the adductor muscle, and scrape it from the top shell – you will see a black spot on the shell if done properly. Then, find the muscle “button” in the middle of the oyster and use the oyster knife to scrape that muscle from the bottom shell to free the oyster and serve.
Our pursuit of perfecting the oyster shuck led us to Patrick McMurray, a true authority on shucking oysters. Below is an excerpt from our interview with the master shucker:
For Patrick McMurray, oyster shucking is a way of life. McMurray is a champion oyster shucker, one of the top shuckers in North America.
He currently holds the Guinness World Record for shucking the most oysters under one minute and runs a quaint restaurant, The Céilí Cottage in Toronto.
What is your favorite type of oyster?
I’m quite partial to more complex tasting oysters, European waters provide for this, specifically Irish Natives called Kelly’s Galway Oysters.
When would you say is the best time of the year to buy or gather oysters?
Fall to early summer depending on the species and the region of oyster you are looking at.
In the Northern Hemisphere, October to May is a good time, but we can get great oysters all year long thanks to refrigeration and airplane transportation.
What is your method when it comes to shucking oysters?
I use a right-handed, tabletop method of shucking. This means I use a board to place my oyster on and hold it down while shucking through the hinge. I find this is the safest and cleanest way of shucking because the hinge is the strongest part of the shell.
Check out this video of the master himself demonstrating how it’s done:
How can you tell a good oyster from a bad one?
The nose knows. Oysters that are fresh and good have happy smells – ocean, sea breeze, clean water, grassy, seaweed, cucumber.
Oysters that have “turned” have unhappy smells – fermented pond leaves, gas, rotten egg. If you don’t like the smell, don’t eat it.
SHUCKER’S TIP: if you want/have to smell the oyster before serving and you are shucking in front of guests, smell the top shell to avoid “dipping” your nose in the oyster.”
What tips would you give people trying to shuck oysters successfully?
Keep your eye on the oyster. Cover the oyster with a cloth, protect your hands, and use an oyster knife – not a screwdriver or anything else.
Shucking oysters can be an enjoyable experience once you get the hang of it. Oyster shucking is an art that can result in some very tasty meals. While it can be difficult to do at first, it’s important to keep what Chef McMurray says in mind – just have fun doing it.
Learn more about beach recipes, cocktails and every beach topic under the sun on 30A.com because we ❤ the beach!
RACHEL KESTER is a Journalism major who lives in Virginia. She loves spending her summers at the beach and capturing its natural beauty through photographs. She blogs at Musings of a Coffee Addicted Bibliophile.